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Embrace the Unexpected

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I’m back from Sedona after shooting my new DVDs, resting up from the wild ride that was last week. And when I say “wild,” I mean it. To be transplanted from the concrete jungle that is Manhattan–where the closest I get to flora are the bouquets sold in front of every deli, and my fauna sightings consist of dogs on leashes and the occasional subway rat–was quite the experience.

When I arrived at the location, a plateau in Red Rock State Park overlooking a basin and surrounded by rust-red mountains, it took my breath away. I took a big chance and decided to film the whole thing using a live microphone instead of adding in the sound later from a studio recording.

Alas, the wind, sun, and occasional rain didn’t care that we were shooting a yoga video. Viewers will hear and see it all, just as it naturally happened. The light shifts, the dust swirls, and at one point I felt like I was in the middle of a Harry Potter-esque duel of elements. At one point, I was blown right off the mat in a Warrior Two–something you might usually only see on a video outtake.

I came to the location thinking everything would be peaceful, leaving us to our Zen creation. Once I’d been there for 5 minutes, however, I knew I’d have to shift my expectations and transform how I would approach the experience.

Yoga teaches us that the inability to go with the flow, instead trying mold the outer environment to suit your inner needs, is the greatest cause of suffering. This week I want to return to the idea of aparigraha, or nongrasping, and show you how to use it to your benefit when situations arise that you don’t expect.

There are two choices whenever you find yourself in a state of duhkha, or suffering, because something’s not going the way you’d hoped. You can hang onto your expectation in a state of stress and strain, or you can shrug your shoulders, turn towards the new information, and say, simply, How can I turn this to my advantage? The great thing about aparigraha is that if you’re holding on too tightly to one perspective, you’re just as capable of picking up another, more empowering one, and holding it instead.

The transition from “this cannot be happening” to “this is my teaching” is a hard at first. But like anything, with practice, it gets easier. Just as every yoga pose that challenges you and feels uncomfortable is another call to learn to move from a state of resisting intensity to using it to serve your ultimate goals.

For me, it all comes down to not needing to control everything and thinking I know what needs to happen for me to be content. Instead, when I stepped on that mountain and things started getting crazy, I didn’t. I looked around, took a deep breath, and thought, “Here we are. Now, what are we going to do with it?”

I heard from the directors that the footage we shot looks incredible, and that the wind adds to the teaching instead of detracting from it. But I still made sure to mention at the beginning of the video that we were in for quite a ride, and used it as a way to show that I was practicing what I teach.

Even if it hadn’t turned out so well, I would have embraced that, taken it inside, and turned it into a learning experience to help me become wiser, stronger, and more prepared for the next time. We can all do this, no matter how easy or challenging the teaching that shows up may be. Remain watchful, open, and resilient. And when the opportunity arises for you to alchemize a disappointment or fear into something wild and free, grab onto it with both hands.

Core Pose: Poet’s Pose (also known as a variation of Half Moon Pose, or Ardha Chandrasana, variation)

This pose presents a wonderful way to experience the ebbs and flows of balance while striving to remain inwardly centered even when you topple over from the strong winds of change. As you approach it, remember to keep your breathing even and your drishti, or gaze, on the ground beneath you.

Stand toward the front of your mat, feet sitting-bone-distance apart. Bend your knees and place the fingertips of both hands a little wider than shoulder distance in front of you.

On an exhalation, bring your left knee into your chest and activate your lower abdominals and natural low back curve in and up towards the ribs. Maintain a long tailbone and open heart as you begin to open your left hip to stack over the right.

With your core engaged, begin to lengthen your left leg out behind you at hip height, and unfurl your chest and left arm to the sky. Keep looking down as you play with bending your right standing leg and lifting your right fingertips off the floor and into your chest. Contract your topside waist as you press firmly and evenly into the floor with the right foot. Straighten your standing leg in time.

Hold for 3-5 breaths. Return to Standing Forward Bend and give a sweet exhale through the mouth, releasing any tension you were holding inside. Repeat on the other side.